Some media reports have quoted Sanguem MLA Prasad Gaonkar, questioning the Goa Foundation for its opposition to the use of District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds for the COVID-19 pandemic expenses of the State. The Government had announced that it would take approximately Rs.30 crores each from each of the DMFs for COVID relief.
The Goa Foundation is thankful to Mr Gaonkar for bringing up this issue, as it enables us to set out the correct facts dealing with this matter.
In 2015, Parliament enacted an amendment to the Mining Regulations requiring all States to set up District Mineral Foundations. A cess or percentage of the earnings from miners had to be deposited in these Foundations. These funds, by law passed by Parliament, are destined for the exclusive use of people and communities affected negatively by mining operations. This is not a Goa Foundation law, nor was the GF involved in passing it. Goa Foundation, like any dutiful citizen, only seeks to implement it.
At the present moment what is the situation?
There are approximately Rs.90 crores collected in each of the two Goa District Mineral Foundations and all this money must be spent for the benefit and welfare of the people from mining villages and communities. There are, at present, more than 40 applications from persons and organisations from mining areas in Goa for release of these funds with the two DMFs. These proposals have been submitted by villagers from Velguem, Pissurlem, Shirdao, Collem and other areas. They seek support from the DMF for repairs to their agriculture, drinking water, schooling, start-ups, restoration of irrigation sources, etc. Only Sonshi and Shirgao today have utilized a small part of these funds, that too, by going to the High Court.
The DMF was set up in 2014. Today we are in 2020. I wish Mr Gaonkar had used his clout as an MLA to get these funds released on these proposals. They are all for people in distress in mining areas, like Sanguem.
We as a Foundation had taken the decision, based on requests from people in mining areas, that there should be no diversion of funds from the DMFs for COVID expenses until and unless these 40 odd proposals from mining villages are considered. I am sure Mr Gaonkar, representing a mining constituency, would agree with this. COVID pandemic is 6 months old, whereas people in the mining areas have suffered the negative impacts of mining now for more than 2 decades!
The Goa Foundation has only informed the Chief Secretary of this position. It has also informed the Chief Secretary that there are some orders of the High Court on the disbursement of DMF funds and a High Court direction to get the Chief Secretary involved during disbursal, which have to be respected. We have also informed the CS that the circular issued by the Union Minister of Mines allowing indiscriminate use of DMF funds for COVID cannot be legally sustained. However this is our view. If the government is convinced that it can raid the DMF as per the circular, and make these funds available for general COVID expenditure in the state, who is stopping it from doing so? Goa Foundation is neither the Government nor the Chief Minister.
It is unfortunate that every problem facing the state is being dumped on the Goa Foundation. If the DMFs are not functioning and not dispersing badly needed support to people in the mining areas for nearly 6 years, is the Goa Foundation to blame? Would any common man or woman in the state believe this?
The Goa Foundation would like to remind Mr Prasad Gaonkar that it was only because of the research done by the Foundation, and the PIL filed by it in the High Court, that the Amdai liquor plant — which was opposed by Prasad Goankar and his co-villagers – was brought to a halt. It is that opposition, in fact, which resulted in Mr. Goankar’s election as an MLA from Sanguem, which we all applauded, as he was a people’s candidate. If objecting to the liquor plant was correct, it means that objections are often valid and should be seriously considered. As a thinking MLA, he would appreciate the fact that we brought any possibility of illegality to the notice of the Goa government. Government may always accept or reject our letters. But we certainly cannot be blamed if there is money available, but the government is so inefficient, it cannot disburse it to the persons who need it or are asking for it.